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I have this rule when it comes to “reviews” of friends Albums that I have stuck to since I started blogging in 2006. It is simple DO NOT REVIEW A FRIENDS ALBUM.

Here is the exception to the rule… THIS CHRISTMAS EP from my friends Ben AbuSaada and Chris Olson and other people I don’t know but I will call friends by default.

Let me go track by track:

1. God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen: Starts off with a dope slide guitar on a resonator. A nice acoustic comes in… Most likely a Breedlove because I know Ben and the holy spirit and God works best through a Breedlove. [UPDATE: the breedlove was Chris Olsons and I have been told it needed new strings which also concerns me because It seems that it may have been malicious and Chris was trying to give Ben tetanus. Possibly a conspiracy, but worth investigating.] All of a sudden out of nowhere comes this… well.. I’m not sure how best to say it… other than I am just baffled how God crammed such an amazing voice into a flannel wearing star wars geek!

The arrangement on this song is really great. It has a swamp blues feel in the middle is really cool. love the cajon on it.. if I can be honest though I would have loved to had heard the gtrs get nasty at the end with slide go all white stripes and DRUMS come in.. that would have put me over the edge..

2. No Other King: An original song… I may or may not have had this song ahead of time and then within about 40 seconds requested the chord chart. It is very hard to find a GOOD advent song and I love this track. We will be doing this at my church this year. Has a really cool St. Theresa/Joan Osborn Mando part in it that I just love! Lyrically for me the central theme of emanuel god with us and the juxtaposition of the cross is really nice… advent songs deal more with the coming of the king, longing, and are almost somber… This one achieves that and instead of focusing on “christmas theme” it takes advent and jumps to Atonement which I really love as a guy who loves liturgy. Fantastic lyrics From Chris Olson, Josh Canady, Ben York, Emily Sibala, and Taylor Sibala

3. The first Noel: A great version… the banjo is a great addition to the track. and I love the break into the chorus. I love the background vocals a TON at the last verse.. Its understated and has a folk feel, but the banjo is played like a bela fleck track which is super cool. I would love to hear what it would sound like with that banjo going like that, a stand up bass, no guitar and a violin.

Final Thoughts: It is clear the ben’s voice was born out of the fires of MORDOR. It is just so rich and has a perfect grit to it. It’s the kind of voice where I actually think “this guy believes what he is singing”. That is so refreshing! The musicality and arrangements of the band are top notch and the production is really professional. This is the Christmas EP to own. They are my friends, but you know I’m not blowing smoke because I broke a personal blog rule!


Disclaimer: I was not paid for this review financially or with any star wars figures. However if anybody does want to bribe me with either of those options I can be swayed.

Bethel Music: TIDES review

September 3, 2013 — 3 Comments


Bethel Music: TIDES

I have had the pleasure of being able to listen to the new Bethel Album for the last month. Sadly I have been so into the album that I forgot to do this review; so let me get right into it.

I am a huge fan of Bethel’s worship and as a worship pastor I love to lead their songs. Bethel over the years has become my personal worship “cave”. I remember when I first heard the song “closer” with Steffany Frizzell-Gretzinger. That night I felt God just reach out in the middle of that song. I ended up spending 3 hours continually repeating the youtube video of steffany leading the 12 min version.

There is something to Bethel that is different than other bands. There of course is quality in musicianship, well thought out lyrics and amazing chops. What sets them a part for me though is it is dripping with the Holy Spirit. These guys are anointed and I just can’t get enough. For me the dynamic duo is Gretzinger and Riddle leading together. Amazing.

I was excited to get this CD, but also nervous. Most of my favorite worship people cut studio albums and I find myself begging that they would do a live album. With bethel it was different because this was their first studio album and I was worried it would remove the ROAR that their other projects had. I worried for no reason.

This album is AMAZING! I have all of Ian McIntosh’s solo work and the minute I pushed play on the first track I heard his fingerprint all over this. In a world of U2/Hillsong/Coldplay ripoffs mixed with civil wars/muford copycats It is so refreshing to actually say that this album is fresh and original. Musically it is evident nothing is composed to be cool or hit and instead 100% supports the songs and it’s lyrics. Everything just makes sense.

Oddly enough I didn’t start listening to the first track. Instead I jumped to the title that hit me; “Be Still”.

“Be still my heart and know
You are God alone
Stop thinking so much
And just let go”

Smacked right in the gut. Those lyrics cut me to the core.
I was hooked after that. Simple truth sung with a prophetic edge and yet wasn’t cliche.

This album stylistically offers EVERYTHING.
Jenn Johnson channels Dido and Natasha Beddingfield on “Chasing You”, a song my 4 year old daughter cant stop singing.

Brian Johnson is consistent and clear with an almost hymn-like quality on songs like “strong in us” and “forever”.

Steffany Gretzinger KILLS it on “be still” and leaves you floating in the spirit of surrender in “letting Go”

Jeremy Riddle, the brilliant writer of “Furious” doesn’t disappoint either. He lends to the album a gritty indie rock feel on “heaven’s song” and on “breaking through” gives us a similar feel to The Killers “human” album. SO GOOD!

New Comer Hunter Thompson sings “come awaken love” which seems to be an homage to Owl City.

There are a few other tracks on here that I didn’t mention that are just brilliant. The only song that had to grow on me was “ascend” but after a bunch of listens I love it even with William Matthews shaky tremolo voice.

The Last song that hit me like a ton of bricks is the EPIC anthem song “For the Cross”. Brian starts the song it its powerful. All of a sudden Jenn DIVES into the song with what can only be described as a Groan of the Holy Spirit and you are instantly transported to utter thanksgiving for the cross. She screams out truth and hope almost as if she wants ever spirit to hear that this “violent hope” is a declaration that the battle is already won.

“But on that day
What seemed as the darkest hour
A violent hope
Broke through and shook the ground”

In the last 10 years there have only been a handful of albums I can truly say were perfection. Not just a 5 star rating, but where there isn’t one bad song, one misplaced note, or one cliche lyric.

THIS IS THAT ALBUM. Buy it now. Your spirit needs it!


Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this album free from Hoganson Media Relations and Bethel to review. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

I started blogging in 2006 and hit the ground running for equipping and training worship people and then leaders in general. I have to say it is not easy keeping up steam and after a long 6 month hiatus I wanted to bring back the blog with an interview with a worship leader friend of mine who seems to have an overabundance of “steam”.
David Santistevan blogs at and is Worship Pastor at Allison Park Church in Pittsburg, PA. He is also the only friend I have that I am pretty sure I have pronounced his last name 14 different ways.
His Church has a new album that released today and so I wanted to have a chat with him on his heart behind all of this.–

JOEL: I read how this CD was created on your site: What I found amazing was you did a retreat, practiced and then made this amazing CD. Were these songs tested out in your church before you made sure they made the cut? What has your congregations reaction been to this new music?

DAVID: 8 out of the 10 songs are songs we sing regularly at APC. “God of the Impossible” and “Closer” are newer and a bit less congregational so they weren’t as familiar. We knew they were important songs so we decided to include them. Our church loves these songs. Many of them have been sung for years so it feels good to finally put them out there for people to take home.

JOEL: I love that they are originals and therefore represent the vision of the house. How did you guys approach the music sonically? Did any current music influence you guys how you wrote or did you just let it all flow to see what would come out?

DAVID: We’re definitely influenced by a lot of great artists. We love the creativity and prolific quality of Hillsong. We love the passion and energy of Elevation. We love the production quality of Jesus Culture and the musical creativity of Rend Collective Experiment. So, yes. Lots of influences. Early in the creative process we made a list of creative musical ideas we liked. We referenced that throughout the production process.

JOEL: Was there an overall “theme” for this CD?

DAVID: We didn’t set out to create a certain “theme”. We just wanted to capture the people of God worshiping and experiencing His presence. But as you listen to the record, there is this cool theme that runs throughout about the life-changing, “undying” love of God. No matter what, His love doesn’t let us go. That frees us to sacrifice, to dream, and live a big life for His glory.

JOEL: One of the things I love about your blog is it is dedicated to equipping worship leaders. I know as a worship pastor myself that two of my main roles are to glorify God and also equip others to do the same. What kind of thought did you give to this album lyrically to make sure it was corporate enough to be used but at the same time challenging in a way that would teach truth and doctrine in a non watered down way?

DAVID: This is a tension I’m constantly managing. My songwriting downfall is that I over-explain – I use too many lyrics. The collaborative process was great with these songs. Some team members were more lyrically driven. Others were great with melody. It really made the songs as stronger as we worked together. We also revised these songs a ton. We didn’t just settle on our first ideas. We prayed, we re-wrote, re-wrote some more, explored Scripture and worked hard to make the songs the best they could be.

JOEL: When I received your album I was really excited to see that you included all the chord charts for each song. So many worship teams these days will only include the chart for their “hit single”. While I know these songs were for “the house” it seems to me, just by those charts alone, that you guys have a real vision for “the church”. What would be your ultimate hope in getting this album into the hands of people?

DAVID: As a worship leader, you know you love a great song – a song that engages your people, teaches them truth, and serves your church. That’s my prayer for this record – that these songs would serve the church. They don’t need to be highly arranged and produced to work. They were all written on either an acoustic guitar or piano. They are prayers from the heart. I hope it resonates with people all over the world.

JOEL: Thanks so much for answering these simple questions for me. Is there anything else you want to add?

DAVID: Joel, thanks for the opportunity man. I’m blessed by what you do in serving the worship leader community. Though I’ll never have a beard as cool as yours, I’m still honored to know you 🙂

Nothing excites me more in worship when people actually sounds like they believe what they are singing.
I for one am excited for this release and to see what God does through the worship songs you have created as a team. It is not only a well written album, but it has been produced amazingly. This is a professional release from a group of worshipers who truly are seeking the heart of God and want to minister to Him and the church.
GO GET THIS THING…Here is the itunes link!!!

John Mark Mcmillan

Some might say that this is John’s second CD and followup to the Medicine. Well technically YOU ARE WRONG because he had already released music before he go signed to Integrity. John has been in the music scene for quite a while now and has carved his way into the hearts of millions through people covering his songs. Now that those covers have paved the way for him to get in front of people as well I was worried his sound might get watered down. Worried it might get stuck in the box I like to call “that sound’ with over processed and over produced drivel that we hear so much these days.

Praise God like others at Integrity (bravo to those guys again) he is creating ART as an act of worship and not as an act of trying to sell records.

This followup to “The Medicine” is brilliant! Of course he brings us wonderful lyrical content that is poet and beautiful, but at the same time striking and arresting sometimes. Like “I believe You can overcome my economy…You can dig me out of the grave” are driven at our hearts but also bring to mind the time we are living in. He truly has worked hard at his craft at pulling on heartstring and at the same time giving us hope through songs like “murdered son”. The only song I have issues with is “who is this” which is very similar to the bridge tag in “skeleton bones” and that is because I don’t expect a guy like him to repeat a phrase.

Instrumentally it is just wonderful. Great production and creativity. There are times where it seems vocally he could have stretched more for a bit more diversity. Sometimes he gets a bit too Bruce Springsteen for me, but then I remember I don’t like springsteen’s voice and I love John’s!

I absolutely love the song “Sins are Stones” which seems like John’s attempt at a modern hymn. I hope to do this someday soon in church.

The only thing I have issues with and that I have issues with half the christian CD’s and worship our there is WAY WAY too many woah’s and Oh’s. At least he didn’t add in OO’s and AH’s.

Bottom line is this is a brilliant CD that is is not better than “The Medicine”. It is different than that album and 100% equal to it. Many times the second release determines the quality of an artist and often it falls flat. This is a MUST buy album that I promise you will love just as much as “The Medicine”.

Disclosure of Material Connection: We received this CD free from Integrity Music to listen and post a review on our site. We were not required to write a positive review. The opinions we have expressed are my own. We are disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 < <> > “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

I have the privilege of listening to tons of new music and I wanted to showcase 4 CD’s/EP’s I am in love with right now.

1. Matthew Reed – Come and drink
Matthew sent this to me and asked that I check it out for him. I am a sucker for a well produced indie sound and when you mix that with worship I am instantly drawn in. I don’t know how best to describe this album other than it sounds very modern and yet I hear lots of things in it that I loved from the 90’s sonically. It has a Vigilantes of Love vibe to it (without the country folk rock). Wow honestly I really am having a hard time wrapping my head around the diversity and goodness of his sound and Don’t want to do him an injustice by comparing him wrong. The song “crash this place” is fantastic lyrically. “Holy spirit would you move in power and crash this place with love”. I love that image like we are inviting him to sleep on our couch or something. He as our companion and we are asking him to move in. “Emmanuel” is another stand out for me. Somewhere in my twisted brain this is what Norah Jones would sound like if she was a dude. I love this song and Really hope to be able to use it maybe even this Christmas. All in all this is a great 6 track CD that is creative, full of great stuff and does not get stuck in the rut of the “modern worship” sound with tons of delay pedals.

2. August York – This is How we Met
This is the First CD from my friends Mckendree and Rachel Tucker. Mckendree of course has had many great solo albums and played with Sonicflood as well, but after he got married this band evolved. I am a huge fan of what Mckendree does with his production, loops, and crazy digital fantastical surprises. He has a very cool raw voice. Rachel on the other hand is a stark contrast very similar to Zooey in She & Him. Somehow the two of them, much like their relationship, were meant to sing together. This CD takes you on a journey. I love what they do with all the different instruments and styles. It really has something for everybody and yet at the same time every song is “them”. It is great to hear them strip it down much like the Civil Wars, but also jazz it up like on the song “What I need”. One of my favorite songs is “no turning back”. It is just Rachel with nothing else and it is so haunting. You swear it is 1930 and you are listening to a Glass record. My one and only negative of the CD is I think Rachel could use more reverb in the production on some of the tracks. Her voice is just really cool and i would love to hear it even more echoed. I can picture these guys in a swanky throwback night club in the village in NY.

3. Nate Fancher – Surrender
I met nate in Sept at the Forge Conference in NJ. He, in passing, handed me his CD for me to listen to and I told him I would review it. I had 0 expectations because I knew very little about him, his ministry, or his “sound”. What I got was something very original and yet strangely familier at the same time. It is an amazing worship album and is starting to become easily one of my top favorites from anything I have listened this year. I love to compare artists to other artists so you can get a feel for it. So I would say it is like Owl City meets Gin Blossoms mixed with the spiritual integrity and lyrical content of Matt Redman. He is such a different and cool sounding vocalist with a Tener voice that reminds me of Ian Mcintosh. Great production, amazing instrumentation and a breath of fresh air. I can see myself doing a few tracks off this CD especially “holy Lovely”

3. Harvest Bashta – Make us Ready
I HATE EP’s because 90% of the time when I get an EP and sound like the church lady after listening to it “well isn’t that special!”. Sadly I find myself more times than not completely forgetting about the artist and not too excited for a full album. When I first heard of harvest of course I noticed her last name is the same as Daniel Bashta (my pick for best CD of the year). Turns out Harvest is his Sister. This EP broke the mold if you will. It is amazing and anointed. It moved me into a spirit of worship, warfare and revival right from the beginning. It is not overly complicated lyrically or musically. What it is though is a cry for God and for Him to show up, wreck us and revive the church. I love all 3 songs. I can’t wait to use them. Her sound is like what if Vicky Beeching and Misty Edwards had a baby. And since that is impossible it must tell you how cool this album is. I am praying somebody signs her ASAP because I want more of her music. Right now this EP is free on noisetrade.

Well there are 4 CD’s you may not have heard or even heard of that I think you need to go out and buy right away. I know what I am talking about so… DO IT!!